Cooking for Chanukah

Recipes for celebrating the Festival of Lights

John’s Traditional Latkes (Potato Pancakes)
Each year John makes these potato pancakes. Use a good, locally grown Maine potato (medium starch) and, if possible, forget about cholesterol and all those other health warnings that are planted in your head. If you get the oil hot (but not burning), the pancakes will be golden brown on the outside and absorb relatively little grease. Serve with sour cream, horseradish, and applesauce. The pancakes are also delicious served with smoked trout or salmon and dill sprigs.

Makes about 16 pancakes; serves 4 to 6

6 medium potatoes, peeled, about 2 pounds
1 egg
½ teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
a generous 1 tablespoon flour
safflower or canola oil or shortening, for frying
toppings: applesauce, white horseradish, and sour cream (mixed with minced fresh chives), smoked fish with fresh dill

Using a food processor or a hand-held grater, grate the potatoes finely. Place in a large bowl and let sit 5 minutes. Remove some of the starchy liquid that forms in the bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg. Add the egg to the potatoes and season generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and stir in gently to incorporate all the ingredients.

Add 2 to 3 cups of oil to a large skillet (with at least two-inch-high sides to protect you from hot oil splatter; the oil should come up about an inch) over high heat. To test to see if the oil is hot enough, add a small piece of the grated potato and the oil should sizzle up immediately. If the potato seems to burn, reduce the heat a bit. If it doesn’t sizzle right up, let the oil get hotter.

Add a heaping tablespoon of pancake batter to the hot oil. Add several other pancakes, being careful not to crowd the skillet, and cook about three minutes on each side, or until they are golden brown on both sides. Test one (lucky you) and make sure it is hot and cooked through to the middle. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Drain the latkes on paper towels or thick paper bags. If you’re not serving them right away, keep warm in a low (250 degree) oven. But don’t let them sit too long. Serve hot with the toppings listed above.
Mini Sweet Potato and Shallot Pancakes with Toppings
This is a twist on traditional latkes, or potato pancakes, using sweet potatoes, which are so much less starchy, more colorful, and healthier than plain old white ones. I like serving them on a platter with various toppings: a dollop of sour cream on one pancake, another with applesauce, mango chutney, and apple chutney. Pick one or use them all.

Makes 16 two-inch pancakes; serves 4

4 medium sweet potatoes, about 1½ pounds
2 medium shallots, peeled
2 eggs, whisked
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup flour, plus 1 tablespoon
3 cups vegetable oil
toppings: sour cream, applesauce, mango chutney, and apple chutney

Using the largest opening on a cheese grater, grate the potatoes into a large bowl. Grate the shallots on the same large opening and mix with the potatoes. Add the eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour and stir well to fully incorporate all the ingredients. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat. The oil should be at least 1inch thick. To test, add a small piece of grated potato — the oil should sizzle right up. Make a pancake from about 2 heaping tablespoons of batter, forming it into a pancake about 2 inches wide. Add the pancakes to the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly and, using a slotted spoon, gently flip the pancake over. Cook for another 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining batter. You can keep the drained, cooked pancakes warm on a cookie sheet in the preheated oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot with any or all of the toppings listed above.

Excerpted from Notes From a Maine Kitchen by Kathy Gunst (Down East Books, Rockport, Maine; hardcover; 196 pages; $27.95).